COVID Has Forced Us to Rethink Education and Exams

The pandemic has forced us to rethink the way we have shaped our education system and its focus on examinations.
Examinations, Sandeep Pandey, Seema Muniz, Gopal Krishna Verma, exams, education news, school coronavirus, news on education, education system, India exam cheating

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December 20, 2021 10:55 EDT

Many people have been concerned with the disruption to children’s education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Since early 2020, schools throughout the world have been shut during repeated national lockdowns. While some children are used to attending classes virtually, others struggle to even get online. Those from low-income families have been particularly affected as some kids have to share a single device with other household members. There are also children who have been completely pushed out of the education system due to a lack of internet availability or no access to a laptop or tablet.

Despite the disruption to education as we know it, there is something positive to have emerged from the chaos: the cancelation of exams, sending a wave of relief to children and their parents. The only disappointed ones are some parents who feel robbed of the glory their kids bring by acing exams.

It’s Time to Make India’s Education Good Enough for All


It may have been inconceivable in pre-coronavirus times to think of an exam-free education system, but we are now faced with the possibility of exploring it. Just imagine how much unnecessary stress it would save children, parents and teachers. It would also free up time for students to pursue personal interests and hobbies and expand their knowledge beyond the classroom.

The Issue With Exams

The focus on time in the classroom to prepare for exams has led to a crisis in education. There are four key problems to address.

First, it is high time that examinations are recognized as the biggest scam in education. This is not in reference to mass cheating or buying of certificates in countries like India. We should be questioning the very raison-d’être of testing in the current education system. Why do we need exams? A teacher should be the best judge of a student’s level of understanding. An evaluation, if at all, should be built on assignments and participation instead of one based on written or oral tests.

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Once upon a time, a man called Albert Einstein elaborated on how a student‘s overall performance is a far better indicator of their achievements. “The teachers’ impression of a student derived during the school years, together with the usual numerous papers from assignments — which every student has to complete — are a succinctly complete and better basis on which to judge the student than any carefully executed examination,” he said.

Second, if we are truly interested in children succeeding in school, then education must be rich in content and relevance and accomplished through quality instructional time. Unfortunately, as the use of testing has become the norm to evaluate students, classroom time is dedicated to helping kids prepare for exams. This can often result in the narrowing of the curriculum as teachers are focused on topics that are part of the test. As a result, children are not taught other valuable information to broaden their knowledge.

Third, the current testing regime does nothing to address social and economic inequality; it only reinforces it. Children from low-income backgrounds who require further support are less likely to have access to additional resources at home. This includes a lack of support from parents who may be working more than one job, limited access to the internet or the financial inability to hire a private tutor. Exam pressure only exacerbates inequality and sets deprived children up to fail.

Fourth, exams represent a cruel process of elimination. Why should any child be eliminated from their right of getting an education just because they don’t achieve the highest grades? If the purpose of education is learning, then the task of a teacher is to ensure that all students learn, irrespective of the time and effort it might require. The fact is that exams lead to competition, which kills the spirit of learning. This system prioritizes individual achievement over collaborative learning, thus defeating the very premise of education with its focus on cooperation over competition.

The Examination Factory

Establishing an environment where each person is simultaneously a teacher and a student presents an opportunity to continually learn, not only from each other, but also from every situation. This would mean that interaction with everyone you meet, such as a shopkeeper, gardener, farmer or musician, can transform into a mutually enriching learning experience to develop skills that go beyond the classroom

The damage being done by a culture of education built around examinations can be seen on both the surface and subliminal levels. On the surface, it divides children into achievers and underachievers from a young age. At the subliminal level, its effects can be traumatizing for children, resulting in a complete erosion of self-confidence for some and brutalization of personality for others. 

Since the model of modern education finds its roots in the Industrial Revolution, it tends to treat individuals as products and educational institutions as brands — and together they dictate the existing job market. It is hardly unusual that education itself has become a market for the affluent. Institutions, especially coaching centers that at times don on the dual responsibility of coaching as well as “educating,” have become mechanical factories that are expected to produce a definite quality of product — in this case, a student with high exam scores so that schools can reach their targets. Commercialization has led to mechanization, which has a harmful effect on human intellect and emotions. 

The pandemic has forced us to pause and rethink the way we have shaped our concept of education. Can we really educate children in overpopulated classes? With an inadvertent byproduct of COVID-19 being social distancing, it has paved the way for fewer students per classroom. This should, hopefully, result in a more empowering teacher-student relationship and put the brakes on the mechanized version of teaching we see today.

This model would be in sync with the one pioneered by ancient gurukuls, a “residential school where pupils live near their guru or teacher.” Such a system would need more qualified and dedicated teachers. But if this model will save us from the COVID crisis, then perhaps it can also tackle the crisis in modern-day education.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

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